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The Silver Wolf: Ghosts Of The Past, Part Eleven
Posted on Sat, March 19, 2016 by LordCeb
CruelSummerLord writes "

He would have the Crown on his brow, the power of his subjects in one hand and the power of his minions in the other, his empire, his visible and hidden empire, would grow like an ever-expanding tunnel, always seeking new treasures, new glory…

…and new victims.

He could hear Urdlen laughing. 




By all accounts, Trendin Bradon did his father Laessar proud. From a young age, he’d proven himself to be a quick study, learning the ins and outs of the family’s gem-dealing business and becoming an able assistant to Laessar, running the company’s day to day affairs whenever Laessar was traveling on business or otherwise indisposed. He’d also proven himself to have a silver tongue, being a skilled negotiator who had proven a master at arranging mutually beneficial deals with competitors and allies alike. Trendin was widely praised for his intellect and charisma, and by all accounts had a bright future ahead of him.

Hence it was all the more infuriating that he could not determine a way to escape Kalrek Burunne’s dungeons, much less to save his mother Marthe or his sisters Pearlinn or Topia, who shared his fate. They were each confined in similar cells, which were sumptuously outfitted with tasteful decorations and furniture, plumbing and a selection of fine foods…which made the steel shackles that bound Trendin and the rest of the Bradon family to the floors of their cells stand out all the more. The cells were cunningly designed so that Trendin and his relatives could move around in relative freedom, but they could not hope to approach the doors of their cells, much less free themselves from their chains.

Hence Trendin could do little but spring to his feet and glare murderously at the sound of the mirrored door to his cell being opened, and at Kalrek as he strode in, a wide smile on his face.

“Still at it, are you?” Kalrek smirked, looking at the various scratches and dents in the walls and furniture, which Trendin had made in his attempts to find a secret door that Kalrek might not have known about, or to break the chains that kept him trapped in this cell. “Come now, you’re supposed to be a bright lad. Do you honestly think that I would have chosen these rooms as cells if there was actually a way out?” Kalrek smirked.

Trendin’s only response was to spit at the older gnome, who easily dodged the projectile.

“Come now, lad-do you even know why you’re here? Besides as a means of ensuring your father’s cooperation, I mean,” Kalrek continued.

Trendin merely stared murder back at Kalrek.

“I thought it as well you should know, since our time together will be ending soon enough,” Kalrek continued, his eyes narrowing. “You see, I have almost all that I need-and soon you and your womenfolk be of little more use to me.”

Despite himself, Trendin couldn’t keep his eyes from widening.

“You were motivation for one of my old friends, and now you’re serving as motivation for another,” Kalrek continued. “Still, they’re but stepping stones, part of the larger goal I have in mind. I should think, at least before you are made to meet Urdlen, I should at least do the courtesy of letting you know what I’ve been seeking all these years…”

Trendin did his best to keep calm, but he couldn’t keep himself from shaking with rage.

“Have you ever heard of the Crown of Arumdina, my boy?” Kalrek continued.

Trendin remained stubbornly silent, refusing to answer Kalrek’s question.

“…I asked you a question,” Kalrek said after a moment, his eyes narrowing.

Trendin made as if to spit at Kalrek, before the older gnome lunged forward and drove his mailed fist into Trendin’s face once, and then again. Blood poured down Trendin’s face from his now-broken nose, and from his two broken teeth, which fell out of his mouth and onto his lap.

“Laessar ought to be ashamed of himself,” Kalrek scowled. “Not only does he not teach you anything about the history of our beloved homeland, but he fails to teach you proper manners. I suppose that it falls to me to do it in his place, then?”

Trendin only stared back impassively at Kalrek, before noticing how Kalrek’s hand went to the sword at his belt.

“The kingdom of Flinthold was far greater in ancient times than it is today,” Kalrek explained, “its prosperity and power among the greatest in the western Flanaess, and said to be blessed by Garl Glittergold himself. His favor was exemplified by the Crown of Arumdina, the regalia of the King of Flinthold. The Crown was so named because of the shard of mithril that was encased in its front, which was said to be a piece of Arumdina itself, the sentient, divine battleaxe that served as Garl’s eternal companion. With the Crown, Flinthold was a gnome civilization to outrank any others in the Lortmils, or even any of its rivals in the Crystalmists, the Barrier Peaks or the Yatils,” he continued.

If Trendin had any reaction to what Kalrek was saying, he did not show it.

“Alas, Flinthold fell on hard times due to its jealous rivals. They contrived to steal the Crown, and with it Garl’s favor. Without Garl’s blessings, Flinthold could not truly be ruled by a king, and so its rulers could only claim the titles of regents, unable to fully claim their birthrights.”

“Imagine, lad-imagine falling so far, knowing that your family is destined to wield glory, but that it is always out of your reach, as you are forced to accept your secondary lot in life. So it was for Flinthold’s ruling family, and so it was for their kingdom. Indeed, Flinthold’s old monarchy faded into history by the time of the crowning of the Aerdy Overkings…and now appointed regents, with no ties to the past, are left to rule over a faded and weakened Flinthold.”

Trendin continued to stare at Kalrek.

“But legends of the Crown of Arumdina persisted, you see,” Kalrek smiled. “Priests of Garl Glittergold received visions from their god, visions of the Crown that showed that it is still out there, somewhere. Think of it, lad-whosoever found the Crown of Arumdina could lay claim to the throne of Flinthold, and return Garl Glittergold’s favor to our fallen homeland, and restore it to its glory!”

“…And you seek the Crown?” Trendin finally asked. “Is that what all this is for? The consorting with spriggans, orcs and minotaurs? The murdering and looting of people who never once crossed you? The using my father’s business to transport your blood money? All so you can finance your search for the Crown?”

“…I see I was wrong,” Kalrek smiled. “Laessar did educate you well. And you’re quite right, lad-the wealth and prestige I have been accumulating is indeed supporting my search for the Crown. That’s not the only goal I have, of course-a worthy king needs followers willing to support him when he takes the throne, to say nothing of the wealth and splendor a king ought to have.”

Trendin’s eyes widened at that.

“And you expect to take the throne of Flinthold with your murdering brigands at your side?” Trendin asked incredulously. “You believe that our people would accept a king that consorts with spriggans?”

“…Perhaps I was right the first time,” Kalrek frowned. “You are indeed a fool. Surely you don’t expect that I would ever try to take the throne that way, do you? No, lad, the Crown would confirm my right to rule, and my support from the people. They will stand with me as I lead Flinthold to reclaim its lost glory, to build it more strongly than ever, with Garl’s favor blessing us once more!” he exclaimed triumphantly.

“And yet you revere Urdlen, the Crawler Below,” Trendin scowled. “Surely you don’t think-“

His words were cut off with a grunt as Kalrek punched him in the face with a mailed fist a second time.

“No, lad, you don’t think,” he frowned. “So few of our people do. Indeed, I was wrong-you don’t deserve to know the full story after all…”

So saying, he turned and left Trendin’s cell, slamming and locking the door behind him.

*** 

Along with the stories of Urdlen, Kalrek had been intrigued as a child by the ways in which gnomes used illusions to protect and defend themselves. And yet, the gnomes seemed so rarely to engage in illusions among themselves, which struck Kalrek as such a waste of potential, particularly when the gnomes had such innate skill with them.

Kalrek had witnessed it a hundred times or more among the humans, the dwarves and the elves that he and his fellow gnomes interacted with so often. The lies to conceal unpleasant truths, the deceptions to gain and keep power, the pretenses of alliance that would eventually lead to betrayal when an ally no longer proved necessary…

…if other races could engage in such things, why then could the gnomes not profit from it more than they did, given their wealth of skill at deception?

He’d done it so well once before, when he’d betrayed Flinthold to the Steelhearts, of course. He'd have been quite pleased to see the Steelhearts cave the entire place in, but when Garnetholme had come to Flinthold’s rescue, he’d realized the value of allies. The wealth he’d purloined from the Steelhearts had been the start of his efforts, as he’d gained allies and refined his plans, and began his search for the Crown.

Now, everything was coming together so wonderfully well. His minions respected him as a warlord, and they would revere him as a king when he took the throne of Flinthold. They would act as his agents, expanding his power and striking down his enemies from the shadows while he put on the public face of a good king, using Garl’s favor granted through the Crown to rebuild Flinthold’s prestige and glory. The hidden part of his kingdom would remain just that. The visible part of his kingdom, the one shown to the world at large, would be that of making Flinthold the most wondrous of realms. The old allegations that he had betrayed Flinthold to the Steelhearts would be exposed as the lies and innuendo they were. The Crown would be his to rightfully wear-and it hardly mattered if Garl’s favor truly came through the Crown, or if it was merely a legend. The favor could just as easily come from Urdlen when it was properly rededicated.

He would have the Crown on his brow, the power of his subjects in one hand and the power of his minions in the other, his empire, his visible and hidden empire, would grow like an ever-expanding tunnel, always seeking new treasures, new glory…

…and new victims.

He could hear Urdlen laughing.

***

 The snorting and bellowing sounds, so reminiscent of cows and bulls, approaching down the passage made sense to Seline and her companions. Locating the companions in the twisting, mazelike passages of the cave network leading to Kalrek’s lair would have been difficult even for a gnome or a dwarf, but it was not surprising that the minotaurs would have such an easy time finding them. The bull-like creatures, as stupid and violent as they otherwise were, could find their way almost flawlessly through a labyrinth, unerringly able to track their prey.

Almost immediately, Seline’s voice rose in a chant, as her friends gave cries of alarm and fell back, distracting the minotaurs from what she was doing.

Seven seconds…

Weimar let off a flurry of arrows, stinging the minotaurs and even felling one, but the rest of the vicious creatures only seemed angered by the attacks.

Fourteen seconds…

Her friends had fallen back, and now Seline was at the head of the group.

Eighteen seconds...

The blast of lighting streaked from her fingers, tearing through the minotaurs and causing the entire passage to glow brightly. The angry creatures bellowed in pain, several of them falling dead, the bodies of the others streaked with scorch marks all across their bodies and smoke rising from their burnt hair. They came on, determined to tear Seline apart, but now Ma’non’go and Airk sprang forward to confront them.

Airk easily drove his morning star into the head of the first charging minotaur, crushing its skull right between the wretched creature’s horns. The other one swung its massive flail at Ma’non’go, who caught the flail’s chain in the tines of his trident, pulling the creature off balance. As the minotaur sought to free its weapon, Ma’non’go quickly thrust his trident upwards, throwing the flail over his shoulders. As the angry creature charged at him, all too ready to use its horns to tear at him, Ma’non’go brought his trident down more quickly than he expected, allowing the stupid thing to skewer itself on his weapon.

Blood poured from the minotaur’s mouth as it collapsed, the stupid look on its face only dawning in recognition when the light finally began to leave its eyes.

Seline only shook her head as she considered the minotaurs. She’d noticed how long and straight this particular passage was, and how ideal it would be for her to cast her lightning bolt down the passage to destroy a line of enemies. It hadn’t taken long for her companions to understand what their roles would be, once she’d explained it to them, and Amyalla had congratulated her on her cleverness.

Seline could only shake her head again, realizing that Kalrek was likely the more clever one here. In all likelihood, his minions wouldn’t have fought well beside one another, so by sending them out into the caverns the way he had, each of the groups of monsters could fight according to their own strengths…and force the companions to waste their own strength fighting the horrible things before they ever reached Kalrek’s domain, where his own strongest and most loyal minions were likely awaiting them. The companions had been fortunate in only encountering the bandits and their shadow mastiff pack, and then the group of minotaurs, and knew that many other killers were still lurking in the passages around them.

Already, she’d used more of her magic than she would have preferred. Even then, though, her magic wouldn’t likely be as effective against the dwarves and gnomes she expected would be among Kalrek’s personal guard.

Seline typically enjoyed intellectual puzzles, and the test of how to creatively employ her magic in resolving them, but she was not optimistic about their chances. 

"
 
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